This will be my last blog post.
I came to the realization these past few weeks that I’m nervous about graduating because I’m now in the same position my parents have been while I was growing up. I grew up constantly reminded of how poor we were; my mother would write out the budget and leave it on the countertop so we could all see what little money we had. I grew up knowing that we were living in Oak Park by the skin of our teeth, and I grew up with debt as a very close companion. Debt was our neighbor, our extended family, our intimate partner that we wanted to leave, but we couldn’t.
I’m still in that relationship, I guess. I was so excited to get a fellowship after graduation, and then my future supervisor informed me that I was gonna need to have a car. I spent weeks trying to figure out what I was going to do, and I made a GoFundMe to raise money to lease a car for 36 months. The process was pretty easy, but I had to buy insurance, and I found out that car insurance is more expensive in Connecticut than in Ohio, and I just started to see all the numbers and bills. And I still was not even done paying off credit card bills and different medical bills, and I’m not exactly sure where/when I’m getting my next check. I felt like my parents, running around scared of losing everything because we couldn’t afford it.
I wondered if this was the future my parents would have envisioned for me. But then I reminded myself that my family doesn’t really have an impact on my life now. I thought about all the friends and acquaintances I had who had parents and other family members that were so involved with this step of the process, the transition out of college. Whether rich, poor, or anywhere in between, it seemed as if a lot of my peers had an extra component of stress involved in this transition process, the pressure from the family. It started before college, when the parents helped their kids figure out what college to go to, took them on the campus tours, reminded them to finish the Common App (for college applications). It continued in college, where some peers had parents that struggled to be supportive when their kids decided to change or proclaim various aspects of their identities, whether it related to gender, sexual orientation, major, etc. Some of my peers never felt as if they could come into their true selves at this time because of the pressures and beliefs of their family. And it’s during the transition out of college that many of them start making decisions about how they want to live in the world.
I’ve never dealt with that. My high school counselor told me about QuestBridge when my life was falling apart, my dad was relapsing, my mother had recently passed away, all of that. I did the college app process by myself. I spent time in the computer lab hours before essay applications were due and just wrote them and spell checked them and sent them off. And I ended up at Oberlin, and my dad had no idea where that even was. The day I found out, the day before my younger sister’s birthday, my dad told me congratulations, and then went out not even 20 minutes later to go do drugs. It’s just how it was.
I came out my Junior year of high school when my mom had her stroke because my family was falling apart and in my mind, it couldn’t get any worse. It was one of the worst experiences of my life, but I’m very happy I did it then, because I’ve spent at least the last 6 years struggling with life, but not struggling with accepting myself. But it changed everything with my dad. Yes I was a good student, a good kid overall. But I was also a sinner who was “going to have to deal with God” when it all ended. I knew my dad loved me, but he just was incapable of loving me the way I wanted or needed to be loved. And that translated with college stuff. I only called him when I needed him to turn in forms to Oberlin to prove that I was still poor enough to keep my full ride. I never actually talked to him about what I was doing at college. I told him once that I was a religion major, and he very quickly changed the subject. I assumed he felt the same way as some people back home who were confused as to why I, a newly “out” gay black man, would be a religion major. A mom of a friend was convinced I was doing it to be a priest and put myself back in the closet. It stung at times, no matter how well-intentioned the concern was, but it didn’t matter. I was the one choosing my majors, not them. My dad might change the subject, but he couldn’t threaten to stop funding me or ostracize me. I was doing all of this on my own.
And that’s what scares me about all of this. It scares me that I have been so capable and confident and able to do all of this shit on my own. People feel some type of way when you say “on your own” because they feel like it dismisses all of the people who were a part of your journey. I get that, but I push back against it because I was the one who had to reach out and make the connections and piece things together so I could afford to exist. And that’s given me strength and fortitude and lots of empathy. But it’s also given me pressure to always “find a way to make it work,” or else all of this was for nothing. All the tears and depression and suicidal moments and the ephemeral moments of joy that were quickly replaced with a longer-lasting, crushing reality, the relationships I was so happy to have that have now ended, the work I put in at a school I really wished I had not gone to. All of that would be for nothing if I was like my parents declaring bankruptcy or falling through the cracks. And it’s so easy for that to happen. I have to be real with myself, there are many people in this country who only view me as a statistic waiting to happen. I go back home to Oak Park and Chicago, and see so many men who look like me, who are around my age, who are already living like my parents and are trying to carve out their lives and find some happiness when it seems like the world is against them.
I look at that and I think to myself, “Well then, here I am. I am still in this world, somehow, and I’m just going to have to make it work.” And I get calmer. And I know that I’ll be able to pay my bills, even though money will be tight. And I will start to figure out what I want to do in my life, because this fellowship is one avenue, and maybe I’ll love it, but maybe I’ll hate it and realize I want to do something else in my life. But I’m going to continue to be the “silver lining” person I am and just keep going, as long as I can. And maybe y’all will see more stories from me in the future. Thank you all so much for reading.